Sooner or later, just about every dog or cat gets a wicked-looking cut—or, more often, a bite from another dog or cat. In many cases, you can tend the wound yourself, but if the bleeding doesn’t slow or stop within 10 minutes, see your veterinarian right away.
Dogs and cats may bite humans when they’re frightened or in pain. If you can’t restrain your pet while doing first aid—this generally requires having a helper so that you have two sets of hands—let your veterinarian handle it.
For dogs, use a muzzle. You can fashion one at home by wrapping a strip of gauze around the dog’s snout and tying it behind the ears. You can try this with cats, but it’s less likely to stay in place because of their shorter snouts—and because they’ll do their best to paw it off.
Restraining a cat may even be a three-person job. One person grips the loose skin on the back of the neck, another grips the hind legs and spreads the cat out lengthwise and the third person administers treatment. Unless you have an unusually docile cat, it’s probably safer to let your vet do the work.
Clean the wound well. While your pet is restrained, moisten the wound and the surrounding area with warm water…add a dollop of liquid soap (antibiotic soap is best, but any liquid soap, even shampoo, is fine)…work up a lather…and rinse it off.
You’ll get the area cleaner if you first trim the fur that surrounds the wound. You have to be careful. I have treated dogs and cats whose well-meaning owners added scissor cuts to the original wound. Use electric clippers if you have them.
Stop the bleeding. Minor wounds usually will quit bleeding—either on their own or when you apply pressure—within just a few minutes. If the bleeding is profuse, apply PetClot, which is available online and at many pet stores. It’s a mesh pad that is saturated with a clotting agent. I advise pet owners to keep it in their medicine chests. It can stop bleeding very quickly.
An alternative is to apply pressure to the area—using a clean cloth or even your hand in an emergency—until the bleeding slows.
Apply antibiotic ointment. You can use a triple antibiotic made for people. It will help prevent infection and also keep the area moist, which will allow the wound to heal more quickly.
Important: Bites often cause infection. After you’ve treated your pet’s wound, call your veterinarian. He/she will probably prescribe oral antibiotics for your pet.
Bandage the wound. After you’ve applied the antibiotic ointment, wrap a few layers of gauze around the area. Then wrap first-aid tape around the gauze overlapping the tape. Don’t make the bandage too tight.
Watch the paws: If the animal’s paws start to swell after you’ve applied the bandage, you’ve made it too tight.
If the bandage is kept clean and dry, it can stay on for three or four days. But I like to change it every other day. If the bandage gets wet, it needs to be changed as soon as possible to avoid an infection.
Use an Elizabethan collar. Dogs and cats often will try to remove a bandage. You can prevent this with a cone-shaped Elizabethan collar, available at pet stores. It fits over the head and prevents the animal from licking or biting the area.